Props can be a mighty powerful tool at the gaming table. Almost anything that can draw focus, enlighten or provide some sense of reality can make all the difference. While too many props can be a distraction, a scattering of flavourful colour can really engage the table with the game.
At conventions, I have found that just a thematically appropriate map can draw players in and have them plotting in no time. I have found they don’t even have to be especially accurate. A map with key landmarks gives you something to ground the situation – and then you can sketch in the details. “You find the market tucked just under the eaves of this building here,” pointing at a location on a city map, “From there you can see a statue of justice dominating the square, with a hoard of beggars clustered at her feet.”
When I saw Dee Dee’s Seattle Survival Guide, I immediately wanted to see whether this could be just that sort of prop.
Dee Dee’s Seattle Survival Guide is available as a PDF. The Guide is a 4″ x 8.5″ booklet, running to 26-pages plus two versions of the main map – it has the immediate look of a tourist brochure about it. Tony Dowler handles the cartography and text, with the Darin Shuler and Jez Gordon (who illustrated the marvellous Porphyry – World of the Burn, which I reviewed some time ago).
Tony Dowler created the Dee Dee’s Seattle Survival Guide as part of a Kickstarter. The key focus of the fund-raising related to the printing of the map itself – here included as an image file and a smaller PDF file. Tony drew and painted a huge original version of the map – see the image with this review – that picked out every ruined building, open market, shattered ship, and exploded bomb crater. The detail is positively stunning.
The Kickstarter ran two years ago and since then the maps have come and gone – all very much sold out. However, this ZIP file of guide and maps gives you some sense of the detail and effort.
The Guide is a spare affair, written from the perspective of a survivor, the Dee Dee of the title, and his critics, individuals who feel that the Guide isn’t quite as complete as it might be. Each page of the guide features a square of the map – which has been divided into 24 sections – and a brief description of what you can expect to find there.
From the viewpoint of someone running a game in this Post-Apocalyptic Seattle (or simply Post Seattle), the Guide comes generic and system free. Better still, it comes apocalypse free. Dee Dee provides a view on the hazards and hassles, prospects and promises – but, you don’t have a specific threat here, aside from bandits, robbers and slavers. Whatever ended the world remains open to you.
In practice, the Guide provides the stage and you have the opportunity to people it with whatever threat happens to take your fancy. You might go with the easy option of a Zombie Apocalypse, or you could home in on something gritty and environmental, or corporate and alien.
Half the Guide consists of a half page description relating to an area. You get a grid reference and area name, a close-up of the square and handy symbols indicating the presence of supplies and threats. The test description skims the surface of the problems and potentials – so, a Gamemaster can use the bigger scale map and the symbols to feed her creativity on other threats.
I dare say if you have access to a plotter printer, this might be the time to call in favours and have the high-resolution image printed out on something big and sturdy. As I said at the beginning of the review, players love a handout, something physical. You can have the map printed out and perhaps age it a bit. Printed on a lightweight paper, a few realistic tears and holes would look great. You can see individual buildings, alleyways, gardens, markets and car-chocked freeways. All very atmospheric.
The map itself provides plenty of details but doesn’t give anything away. You can see a lot of interesting landmarks like the traffic-choked streets or a ship beached into the side of the city, but there is nothing revealing here. The players can see plenty, but won’t learn anything until you lead them there with your stories and adventures.
For the Gamemaster seeking a new setting for a post-apocalyptic campaign or an engaging one-off, Dee Dee’s Seattle Survival Guide offers a fine artefact suited to open access. The incredible level of detail makes it a fine handout. From a player perspective, it creates a perfect window into an apocalyptic world. From a gamemaster perspective, the rich landscape and the glimpses of the Guide offer real potential as a backdrop filled with gritty adventures.
For the price, well worth picking up. I’m disappointed I didn’t catch it when it Kickstarted!
Review based on a personal copy. Dee Dee’s Seattle Survival Guide, Tony Dowler, Planet Thirteen. Available from RPGNow, $5.00.
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